Tag Archives: constitution

Mike Lofgren: Republicans Are Revolutionaries, Not Conservatives

Summary: Here’s another article describing how America has begun what might be a pre-revolutionary situation. Both Left and Right have revolutionary aims, but only the Right has captured and harnessed one of the major parties. Great changes often come in unnoticed “on little cat feet“, and only roar after they’re well-established.

“’Republicans this year don’t want managers, they want transformers,’ conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace, a Cruz supporter, told The Hill. ‘They don’t want reform, they want revolution. They don’t want a better government, they want a new government. The ground has shifted and the grassroots conservatives have taken the establishment’s preeminence away.’”
— From “Governors flop in Republican race“, Jonathan Easley, The Hill, 8 Nov 2015.


Republicans Are Revolutionaries, Not Conservatives

by Mike Lofgren
Posted at Bill Moyers & Co, 9 November 2015
Posted here with the authors’ generous permission.

There is much to commend in Thomas Schaller’s recent piece describing the built-in structural advantages that the Republican Party enjoys in the American electoral system. Some analysts believe this advantage derives from the systematic gerrymandering of legislative districts; others declare it a result of a voluntary demographic “sorting” of Democrats into metropolitan areas and Republicans to exurbia. Schaller sees that it is both and that the two phenomena reinforce one another.

Structural bias: It’s worse than you think

That said, the structural imbalance in the American political system is even more pronounced than Schaller depicts. The “small state” bias in the Senate that he condemns derives from the Connecticut Compromise during the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the agreement that gave each state equal representation in the United States Senate. It was initially favored by smaller Northern states, which were then growing less rapidly in population, but after incorporation of the infamous three-fifths rule allowing states to include slaves in their head count for representation in the House, it became a tool of the reactionary Southern oligarchy to block any tampering with slavery for the next seven decades.

Yet even after the three-fifths rule and slavery were abolished amid the greatest effusion of blood in American history, the same elements that controlled the antebellum Senate continued to have a lock on that chamber until the 1960s. Ira Katznelson has described in persuasive detail how the many reforms – sweeping in their scope – that President Roosevelt believed were necessary both to save capitalism from itself and to modernize the United States were delayed and watered down by the Southern bloc controlling the Senate. And it took another thirty years after that to end Jim Crow.

Continue reading

The Left will rue the day they cheered an activist Court

Summary:  The reactions to the Court’s ruling on Obamacare and same sex marriage divide on predictable partisan grounds, as Americans seek what they want. We care little about Constitutional procedure and less about the work of making the machinery work as the Founders intended. It’s the thinking typical of political regimes’ last days, when belief has gone and people just follow the forms.  {We’re back to one post per day, as I consider winding down this project.}

Justice lying down

The Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriages. David Fontana at Slate gives some of the typical liberal cheering for the Court’s decision on same-sex marriages: “The Justices’ Justice” — “For years we feared the consequences of pushing social progress through the courts. Obergefell v. Hodges will prove we shouldn’t.”  I suspect he’s cheering prematurely.

For a clearer example of thinking on the Left see Matthew Yglesias’ reaction, exultant and quite daft (red emphasis added)…

What’s more, it’s a huge analytic mistake to assume that striking down some law is an anti-majoritarian action. The way the United States government works is that change is very hard. Given the current state of gridlock in Washington, it’s pretty clear that neither a gay marriage legalization bill nor a gay marriage illegalization bill could pass. On marriage equality, like on virtually every other issue, the status quo is simply likely to prevail. Into the breach steps the Supreme Court — in this case, on the side of the majority according to polls.

All in all, I think the American system of checks-and-balances has a lot of flaws. But unelected judges invalidating unjust laws that a majority of the public wants invalidated is basically the system working at its best.

Continue reading

The Barons of England warn us not to throw away what they gained in Magna Carta

Summary: 800 years ago on a field at Runnymede the Barons of England took a large step for humanity. The consequences of their actions still echo today. Now we’re losing what they won for us. On this anniversary recognition of that sad fact can alarm and inspire us.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
— Written by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (11 November 1755).

King John signing Magna Carta

If only we were so bold and strong.

Our elites greet the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (the Great Charter) with “no big deal; move along.” A New York Times op-ed by Tom Ginsburg tells us to “Stop Revering Magna Carta“,, He’s a professor of international law & political science at U Chicago. Law professors are often among the leaders of the movement against our liberty.

The Wall Street Journal of course bats for the anti-liberty teams, with the news headline “Magna Carta Celebrations Reignite Legacy Debate: some question the importance of the document“. Its editors live for the day they can run that headline for the Bill of Rights.

The Economist misleadingly says “The great majority of its provisions have been repealed: of the original charter’s 63 chapters only three — one confirming the freedom of the church, one confirming the liberties of the City of London and the crucial chapter 39 — remain on Britain’s statute book” (except that many of the other provisions remain codified in laws expanding and deepening MC’s provisions).

These blasé sophisticates misunderstand the significance of Magna Carta. It matters little that many of its provisions are meaningless or repugnant to us, that King John repudiated it, or that it was often forgotten for generations (then rediscovered).  Runnymede on 15 June 1215 was a milestone on the long road paved with “blood, sweat, and tears”. The meeting at Philadelphia in 1787 laid another milestone, one now being lost.

Continue reading

Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?

Summary: We’re losing to the 1%, and articles like this show why. Reformers dream of changes to the system (like the amendments proposed here) while the 1% builds the machinery to make changes happen. They’ve invested the time, effort and money; now they reap their reward. It need not be this way.  {1st of  2 posts today.}

“The throne is never vacant.”
— Russian aphorism. If we choose not to govern, then others will.

Amendments to the Constitution

It’s Not Too Late: Save Democracy By Amending the Constitution

By John Nichols, The Nation, 6 April 2015
“Corporations are not people, money is not speech,
and votes must matter more than billionaires’ dollars.”

Nothing locks in inequality and dysfunction like a constitution so imprecise that it allows right-wing judicial activists to make buying elections easy and voting in them hard. But don’t just blame “constitutional conservatives” for turning our founding document into an outline for oligarchy. Fret about liberal constitutionalists who imagine we’re just one thrilling presidential appointment away from making our democratic vistas real. Like Democrats dreaming of another FDR, liberals waiting for another Earl Warren miss the point. Our democratic destiny is not something to wait for — it’s something we have to make happen. Dissident Americans have been bending the arc of history by rewriting the US Constitution since amendments were added with quill pens. Today’s dissenters should be about the business of doing so once more.

… The real friends of the Constitution today champion a “move to amend” that would declare that corporations are not people, that money is not speech, and that votes must matter more than billionaires’ dollars. Sixteen states and some 600 communities have recently demanded that Congress initiate a constitutional response to the judicial activism that has allowed elites to commodify our politics and corporatize our governance. At the same time, activists are taking up a proposal by Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison to end the crude assault on voting rights with an amendment that establishes, finally and unequivocally, a right to vote and to have every vote counted. These are good starting points, but they are not an end to anything.

Continue reading

A Tale of New America: a judge burns the Constitution

Summary: Today we have another Tale of New America, as the government exempts from legal challenge the shadowy neocon group United Against Nuclear Iran. The tale is told here not as information (clickbait), but to spark your anger and action at what’s happening to the Republic and what we have become.   {1st of 2 posts today.}

“United Against Nuclear Iran”

Let’s make it a dawn, not a sunset.

For a decade I and many others have documented the decline of the Republic and its replacement by a plutocracy. We’re now far along in this, as the 1% begins the “pursuit” phase (the endgame) in which they exploit their victory to crush their foes (preventing subsequent conflict), and begin the post-bellum restructuring of law and society to accommodate their values and appetites. The changes to date were on the gentle downward slope of an “S Curve”. Now we enter the steep section as the 1% makes large obvious changes, without fear of effective opposition. This is our daily news.

The police become both militarized and bolder in their brutality (as in yesterday’s vignette, and the other posts about police brutality). The government becomes more open about their mass domestic surveillance; Obama boasts about ordering assassination of America citizens. Public excitement about these things produces no substantial change, just a delay in their advance.

Today we have another outrageous tale, as the government displays its power over the now-impotent institutions created by the Constitution. Accounts of these provide clickbait for the news media, excitement for the outer party (We’re informed!), and boost the reputation of the Deep State. Win-win-win.

So let’s turn to Glen Greenwald at The Intercept for today’s sad story: “Court Accepts DOJ’s ‘State Secrets’ Claim to Protect Shadowy Neocons: a New Low” —

A truly stunning debasement of the U.S. justice system just occurred through the joint efforts of the Obama Justice Department and a meek and frightened Obama-appointed federal judge, Edgardo Ramos, all in order to protect an extremist neocon front group from scrutiny and accountability. The details are crucial for understanding the magnitude of the abuse here.

Continue reading

We love the Constitution yet hate our government. The past tells us why.

Summary:  The pasts of other nations provide insights into the problems of America today, free lessons of what works and what fails. Some pasts are more relevant than most. Some are more disturbing. Some are both; these are the ones that deserve your attention.

The Hitler Myth

As discussed here previously, NAZI Germany was the first nation to break from traditional modes of western society into modernity. During and after WW2 the West followed Germany into a world with a new morality, plus new physical and political technology.  Although we recoil from direct comparison to NAZIs, we seldom feel uncomfortable from the aspects we have in common. Perhaps we should.

Excerpt from “The Good Tsar Bias

By Xavier Marquez
Prof Political Science, Victoria University of Wellington

At his website, 16 July 2014

Ian Kershaw’s remarkable book The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich {see Wikipedia} is a really clever piece of public opinion archeology. It attempts to reconstruct the rise and fall of Hitler’s popularity in Nazi Germany, drawing primarily on secret reports compiled by the Gestapo, the Security Service of the SS, and the clandestine agents of the banned Social Democratic Party.

…Among other things, the book makes the case that, at least until the war started turning sour in late 1942, Hitler was far more popular than the Nazi Party, which quickly grew to be disliked, even despised, by the vast majority of Germans,  despite the initial improvement in economic conditions they experienced in the early years of the Third Reich:

At the centre of our enquiry here is the remarkable phenomenon that Hitler’s rising popularity was not only unaccompanied by a growth in the popularity of the Nazi Party, but in fact developed in some ways at the direct expense of his own Movement.

In Kershaw’s telling, the contrast arose primarily from the fact that the “little Hitlers” (as Party functionaries were sometimes derogatorily called) were constantly encountered in everyday life, where they were perceived, not without ample justification, as corrupt and overbearing, while Hitler operated on a “higher” plane, concerned with the “big questions” of war and peace.

America has no Leader as the foundation of our political regime. But the dynamics Kershaw describes might explain the largest anomaly of modern American politics: we revere the Constitution — increasingly so, if the Tea Party is representative — but have low and falling confidence in the Republic’s political institutions. From Gallup’s 2014 Confidence in Institutions poll:

  • Supreme Court:…….30%
  • Presidency:…………..29%
  • Congress:……………..07%
  • executive agencies:..???   (most probably rate very low)

Continue reading

Why do we pledge allegiance to a flag, ignoring the Founders’ instructions?

Summary:  We need to return to basics in order to reform America. Devising complex technocratic solutions are a snare and dead end, building castles in the sky while the 1% gain strength.  We need to return to the fundamentals of the American project, both the symbolic and conceptual designs. Today we look at the Pledge, another in a series searching for a path to a better future for America.

Flag and Eagle

Swear allegiance to the flag.
The bird is dumb, too.


Oaths were not purpos’d, more than law,
To keep the Good and Just in awe,
But to confine the Bad and Sinful,
Like mortal cattle in a penfold.

— Samuel Butler’s “Hudibras”, Part II, Canto II (1664)


This is great: Article II Section 1 of the Constitution:

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

In the fires of the Civil War a more detailed oath was forged, passed on 13 May 1884, now taken by all civil, military, and judicial officials excerpt the President. This is perfect:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.

This oath points to our duty under the founding document. The Tea Party was exactly right that we have lost sight of our system as it was, and forgotten how it should work. Too bad they’re interested in only fragments of the Constitution, and despise some of its principles (i.e., they’re part of the problem, not the solution).

As the United States evolved in the Gilded Age, with rising inequality at home and imperial aspirations abroad, our rulers devised an oath suitable for peasants.  This was written by Francis Bellamy (socialist and Baptist minister) in 1892, formally adopted by Congress in 1942, and revised four times since then. The Founders are appalled by this.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Continue reading